So, you want to spice up your sex life with some dominance and submission? Or maybe you’re already playing with some power in the bedroom, and you want to amp it up? Maybe you think it’s really sexy when your partner orders you to do something in that I’m-not-joking, growly voice usually reserved for sweet nothings in your ear?

Protocol is a fantastic way to start experimenting with power play. Read on to learn about some philosophies of power dynamics, tasks, rules and rituals, and how to create protocols that resonate for you.

But Before We Start ...

When I say "power play," I’m talking about two people who come together with mutual respect and care, who decide consciously that one of them will be in charge and that the other will follow. Both roles are important and each depends upon the other. I try not to imply that the dominant, or top, is the one "in power" and the bottom, or submissive, is the one "who gives up power." I know many people who have experienced great power from their bottom experiences. Power play is like ballroom dancing; both partners are essential and each has different roles. Neither is superior to the other.

Before playing with power, it's important to consider how you view D/s roles. Does one role appeal more to you? How do you feel gender and race affect power dynamics? What about economic status? What kind of power do you have?

Power dynamics are all around us and often play out unconsciously in our intimate and cultural/social interactions. One of the reasons I love power play so much is because it brings these systems into consciousness, and gives us an entirely new realm in which to play.

Power exchange can encompass all kinds of things such as sensation play, bondage, contracts, the kink and leather communities, and 24/7 ownership. Protocols can be an important aspect of many of these components.

Tasks and Rules and Rituals, Oh My!


"Protocol" is really a fancy word for "rule," but it's a little more complex; protocols are about how to carry out certain tasks. They may be ongoing tasks - specific things that need to be acted upon and done in precise ways - or they may be instructions about how to address one's partner, such as using the titles "Sir, "m’Lady" or "my Quing." They can be rituals, too - a particular preparation of the morning coffee, precise instructions for how to greet and part from each other, or tasks to complete before bed every night.

Many of us already have dozens of existing protocols in our lives, for ourselves and for others. We have quirky, often unspoken, rules about fashion (which colors don’t go with others, which shoes to wear with which outfits), food (if you always have the same drink with a particular meal), or about the household (who does the dishes and who takes out the garbage).

Both dominants and submissives can be assigned protocols to follow, although I’ve found that dominant protocols are much more rarely articulated. Most often, protocols pertain to the tasks a submissive does to serve the well-being and interest of their dominant, and of their relationship together. (Are you a new submissive? Read our Beginner's Guide to Submission.)

But wait -

Why Would You Want Protocols?

Because they can make mundane, boring things extra sexy. Because they’re fun. Because they make your life run more smoothly.

If protocols seem like a lot of work, it's because they are. Keeping up with them can require rigorous dedication. But if the idea of having your behavior controlled (or controlling someone else’s behavior) is appealing to you, playing with protocols in your power dynamic can be a wonderfully structured way to extend your reach of control. And after you do the work to integrate protocols into your life, the benefits can be great!

Protocols can also be temporary. They can be something you set in place for the next two hours, days, or weeks. When you’re tired of them you can take them off the table. You don’t have to commit to them forever - and, in fact, I’d advise against it. Try them on, play with them, see what makes you hot, and follow the pleasure you find.

Yeah! Let's Make Some Protocols!

Enough jibber-jabber. Let’s talk about how to implement protocols in your relationship.

Tip No.1: When negotiating protocols, equality is key.

If you have an existing power dynamic in your relationship, you may want to suspend it while you negotiate protocols. It’s not solely the dominant's responsibility to create the protocols. Often submissives have very good insights into the dynamics of the relationship as well.

Tip No.2: The protocols should serve both partners and their dynamic.

In "Discipline", author Lily Lloyd suggests that all protocols should:

  1. Make you feel closer to your partner
  2. Build the dynamic both partners agree upon and want
  3. Enhance the well-being of both partners
Before putting any protocols in place, ask yourselves whether these three goals will be met.

Tip No.3: Set up a trial period for your protocols.

When introducing a new rule, set a specific time period during which to test it. After the trial week, day, or hour, evaluate how it felt to use a protocol. Was the protocol enforced? Was the protocol completed? Did you like it? Did it make you feel sexy, turned on, excited? Or was it a drag? Were you glad when it was over? Did you want it to continue? Pay attention as it unfolds. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do, and protocols should ultimately be fun.

Tip No.4: Fuck other people’s protocols - use the ones that work for YOU.

You can create rules in any area of your lives that you and your parnters feel are fair game. Some relationships might have someone’s work and occupation off-limits from protocols, while others might have strict rules about work (never be late; always come directly home after work; make sure you eat a good lunch). Or maybe you have protocols about someone’s body and appearance, but not about what they do with their time.

When I started playing with power outside of rough sex and BDSM play in the bedroom, it was hard for me to wrap my head around what kind of protocols I should make, but soon I realized that there’s no right or wrong way. All that matters is what does or doesn't work for you and your relationship.

Tip No.5: Protocols can make both sex and mundane chores hotter.

You can certainly create protocols in your lives just for the sake of upping the ante in the bedroom. On the other hand, you can also create some rules around your household that turn day-to-day pragmatic things into ways of serving your dynamic and each other.

For example …

Rules for Self-Improvement
  • Set bedtimes and/or morning alarms
  • Restrict indulgent activities you’d like to avoid
  • Add something to your grooming routine
  • Make three pieces of art this week
  • Work out/move your body twice this week
  • Kneel and meditate each morning for 15 minutes
  • Stop swearing or using the word "like"
  • Work on your power (submissive/dominant) journal nightly before bed
Rules for Making Pragmatic Things Hot
  • Each day, serve your dominant drinks in your fanciest clothes
  • Do the dishes before bed each night wearing a butt plug
  • Make the bed each morning, naked
  • Pick up or cook your dominant’s favorite dinner one night a week
  • Learn your dominant’s precise laundry preferences
  • Clean and organize your sex toys/leather
  • Do your chores while wearing nipple clamps
  • Make dessert wearing only an apron
Rules That Are Sexy Just for Sexy’s Sake
  • Edge daily
  • Get off every day for a week
  • Don’t get off for a week
  • Practice blowjobs daily
  • Send a dirty text to your dominant daily at 4 p.m.
  • Offer sexual services each night
  • Kiss every time you meet and part

Tip No.6: Use protocols to improve your relationship.

Raven Kaldera and Joshua Tenpenny, a master/slave queer couple who have authored many books about power dynamics and service, advise, in their book "Dear Raven & Joshua," to build protocols around annoyances or things you want to change in your relationship.

If, for example, the dominant often ends up with an empty tank of gas and no time to fill it, perhaps a good protocol for the submissive would be to keep the tank of gas full. If a sink full of dirty dishes is unsightly and bugs you, perhaps having the submissive do the dishes every night before bed is useful.

What about when a protocol doesn't occur as it should?

Responses could vary, from the opportunity for a do-over, to specific punishments. But there’s so much to say about creating and enforcing protocols that we will have to explore that in another article!

Protocols can be a fantastic way to implement power dynamics outside of the bedroom, in the day-to-day. They can bring partners closer together and enhance intimacy. It may take a bit of time, energy, and self-reflection to figure out what works for you individually, and what works for the relationship as a whole, but the possibilities for play, power and connection are so vast. Approach one another with respect and open communication, and get ready to reap the benefits of power play.

(To read more advice for beginners, check out 8 BDSM Tips, With a Twist.)